Unmasking TN’s troubles

Delhi choking; Maharashtra gasping; UP breathless. Indeed, we viewers of national media are getting drowned by such news ceaselessly through the day. But down under, the State of TN and its historic capital Chennai, still part of the sovereign nation of India that is Bharath, is in no better state, steadily climbing the Covid charts. And here too there is no dearth of issues and controversies that dog the above ‘privileged’ States. Aah, but what happens in TN stays in TN!

The life-saving oxygen has turned into toxic political CO2 here also. The Union health ministry has ordered diversion of nearly 45 metric tons of liquid oxygen manufactured by Chennai’s sole oxygen supplier, Inox in Sriperumbudur, to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, even as TN’s numbers are soaring daily. State Minister for health Vijayabaskar said the Centre had taken the decision without any consultation and this will affect the State’s plan to ensure prompt supply of oxygen to the needy. But few buy his defense and leaders across parties and the public deem it as a gross injustice to the State, particularly in the context of uncertainty of what is in store, given the trends. At a time when the Haryana Government has put police escorts to O2 containers after alleging that Delhi has stolen its lorries, the Centre enacting an ‘official’ theft of the precious gas does rankle. But then, after all it is only from TN.

According to some media reports, four people died in a Vellore hospital and the family members are adamant that oxygen shortage, which began in the afternoon itself and brought to the notice of the hospital staff, was not addressed, causing the death. The family members even showed videos of workers repairing an oxygen storage tank. The District Collector promptly junked these allegations, saying that many patients on oxygen support are doing fine. But the point is, irrespective of who is right, such Oxygen related issues are rearing their head in TN too as in the north. If indeed TN, though we wish not, joins the Oxygen queue, what traction will its woes get given the Centre’s deaf ear, unless it is music to it like lifting the life saver on the sly from a pliable ally!

During the first wave nurses and doctors were drafted on contract basis when the active cases were around 60,000. But now, when the cases could touch a lakh, additional doctors and nurses have not been recruited, leading to a critical shortage to handle the surge. Patients who go to Government hospitals in ambulances in critical condition have to wait for more than three hours even for basic treatment. The milling crowds of sick patients-in-waiting itself is a big disaster-in-waiting.

And worse, many Government hospitals are short of beds. So many of those who come by ambulances, already in dire need of attention, are given different reasons and turned away. And not in ambulances, mind you, but quite often asked to go elsewhere in an auto or taxi. The Government claims it has opened centres with additional beds. But there is no clue from where the doctors, nurses, equipment like oxygen cylinders etc will come from.

Also, as in rest of India, here too the vital Covid medicine Remdesivir is in shortage and by extension, black marketed. Again, owing to lukewarm response in the initial stages, a large quantity of precious vaccines was wasted. A few cases of relatives running from mortuary to crematorium, after long bureaucratic delays and painful paperwork, are also rife, along with the usual doubts over the actual death count.

But there are some silver linings. Despite the constant increase in the current wave, TN’s Covid management is better than most States. I would place much of the credit to Health Secretary Dr. J. Radhakrishnan, I.A.S. A tireless worker, he leads from the front and is one of most experienced and efficient bureaucrats in the field of disaster management in the nation. Indeed, it was his credibility that helped the Vivek death issue from getting blown out of proportion.

Radhakrishnan led last year’s Covid fight in TN, but was shunted out suddenly. Things worsened and he was hurriedly brought back. He has been in this job since then. Unfortunately, he is up against a reckless public and an irascible political class. He would have, given his trained eye, surely seen the devil lurking amidst the uncontrollable throngs in the election meetings. But his hands were tied and one can imagine his chagrin, seeing all his past good work going to naught. And now having inflicted considerable damage, the political class have withdrawn, leaving the dirty work to the familiar campaigner.

Let’s wish him all luck for our sake and hope the national media take note of him for India’s sake.